The Civic Federation, a Chicago-based fiscal watchdog group Wednesday said Governor Bruce Rauner’s budget proposal is unrealistic and relies on money that may never come through. The group’s report calls it “precariously balanced."
Laurence Msall, the organization’s president, said the plan is too optimistic about savings and revenues. One possible source of money proposed in the Rauner budget is selling Chicago’s Thompson Center – which has stalled since the governor first proposed it 3 years ago.
Msall said he agrees the plan is closer to being balanced compared to previous years but it still doesn’t outline a clear pathway to paying the state’s massive bill backlog – which would be $9.1 billion at the end of FY2019. In his proposal, Rauner expects a surplus of $351 million that would cover some of the $9.5 billion in bill backlogs expected at the end of FY2018. Msall said the state shouldn't be spending money it doesn't have. “It’s fine if you’re optimistic, but you need to have a contingency plan if your optimism isn’t met by reality and if the state doesn’t enact those saving,” he said.
Msall says he’s not entirely opposed to the governor’s plan. He likes the ideas that could increase savings like cutting back on state funding for health insurance plans for teachers, university employees and retirees. The Civic Federation in part supports Rauner’s proposal to shift normal pension costs to school districts outside of Chicago, public universities and community colleges over four years. But Msall said Rauner’s plan unfairly treats Chicago taxpayers –and therefore, can’t support that proposal as it stands.
Still, Msall said the budget negotiators should move forward with caution and consider changes to the Governor’s proposal. “In looking at the entire spending plan, we are very concerned that it is not likely to be balanced and that it may end up costing considerably more,” he said.
Through a spokeswoman, Rauner said he stands by his budget plan that’s balanced and has a surplus. "These are our administration’s ideas, but we are open to suggestions from the legislature to provide better value for taxpayers," the statement said.
The governor and the General Assembly have until the end of May to approve a budget – and negotiations continue. Earlier in the week, Rauner and the top legislative leaders met for the second time since holding an unexpected budget meeting last month. Rauner described the process as slow-moving and pointed fingers at Democrats for not wanting to set a revenue estimate. On the other hand, Democratic Senate President John Cullerton said he felt the meetings have been productive and helpful.